Cabinet reshuffles ahead of midterm elections

Taiwan’s Executive Yuan today announced a reshuffle of top officials in diplomacy, security, and defense. Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu will replace Foreign Minister David Lee, who will replace National Security Council Secretary-General Yen Teh-fa. Yen will replace Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan, who will head a think tank to be established by the defense ministry. Mainland Affairs Minister Katherine Chang will be replaced by National Taiwan University Professor Chen Min-tong, who was a former minister in 2007-2008 and served as President Tsai Ing-wen’s deputy when she was mainland affairs minister. Labor minister and veteran affairs ministers are also both being replaced.

Wu graduated from Ohio State University with a PhD in political science and served as mainland affairs minister, de facto ambassador to the US, and National Security Council Secretary General before assuming his post in the Presidential Office. Lee is a veteran diplomat who served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Australia, Canada, the European Union, and the US. Wu and Chen are considered to be close to President Tsai Ing-wen, while Lee has faced calls of resignations following several diplomatic setbacks after Tsai took office in 2016.

The timing of the reshuffle comes right before China’s National People’s Congress and People’s Political Consultative Conference meet at the beginning of March, when China is formulating new laws and expected to shuffle its Taiwan affairs officials. After almost two years of frosty relationship, Tsai is possibly altering her government’s approach in dealing with China. The appointment of Wu to foreign minister also signals Tsai’s desire for closer engagement with the US.

As the Vatican prepares to close an agreement on bishop appointment and formalize relations with Beijing, Taiwan’s diplomatic challenges will only be exacerbated in the months ahead. Adding on the pressure with local elections looming in November, Tsai no doubt hopes this reshuffle will boost her and the DPP’s suffering approval ratings.

The changes are effective February 26, 2018, with the exception of Mainland Affairs Council, where Chen will take over in March.

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